Goldsworthy, Rivers and Tides

“We often forget that WE ARE NATURE. Nature is not something separate from us. So when we say that we have lost our connection to nature, we’ve lost our connection to ourselves.” ~Andy Goldsworthy

During shelter-in-place I made some time in the evenings to rewatch some of my favorite movies.

These consisted of independent films, foreign language films, and documentaries. Here is a short list of some of the films I have watched recently: Amelie, Being There, Butterfly (La lengua de las mariposas), Chariots of Fire, Cria Cuevis, Delicatessen, The Fog of War, The Lives of Others, Odd Man Out, Once Upon a Time in the West, The Third Man, Spirited Away, Sunset Boulevard, and Rivers and Tides.

The last is one of the best documentaries I have ever seen about the artistic process (and a profile of an amazing artist.) This 2001 documentary was filmed, edited and directed by Thomas Riedelsheimer and it’s full title is Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working With Time.

The English sculptor, Andy Goldsworthy, is an artist I am familiar with because I have sketched many of his pieces in the Bay Area. His medium is nature and his sculptures are often ephemeral, being destroyed (he would say altered) by the wind, rain, and the rising tide.

A sketch of Goldsworthy’s Wood Line in the Presidio from 2015.

Rewatching Rivers and Tides, made me want to go out into the San Lorenzo watershed and make a sculpture out of nature. To do that, I needed river rocks and there was no better beach for this than Rocky Beach.

Rock cairns at Rocky Beach, telling the river which way to flow.

I headed upstream from the beach to Upper Rocky Beach, to gather stones. I tried to “shake hands” with the place and the stone and I worked on making a stone cairn, a pale imitation of Goldsworthy’s work.

Once I finished my Apprentice-piece, I sat down and sketched the work, much like Goldsworthy does. I do love sketching rocks, attempting to get the lines, contours, and textures onto paper.

A 2015 sketch of another Goldsworthy sculpture on the campus of Stanford. Stone River (2001). This riverine design influenced the lines work under the title of the featured sketch. A very Goldsworthian motif.

Goldsworthy and the Presidio

The British sculptor Andy Goldsworthy seems to like creating work in San Francisco and he shows a fondness for the Presidio. In all of its 2.3 square miles, the Presidio is home to four of Goldsworthy’s works.

The Presidio, which is nestled into the northwest corner of San Francisco, is a former military post going back to the very birth of the United States. In 1776, it was built as a military base for New Spain. It later transferred to the United Sates in 1848 and on October 1, 1994 it was decommissioned as a military post and transferred to the National Park Service, ending 219 years of a military presence.

What to do with a former military base in prime real estate? How about some art?

I first became aware of Goldsworthy’s work by looking through his monographs at Green Apple Books. I later saw the documentary Andy Goldsworthy Rivers and Tides (2004). This is one of the best documentaries to capture the struggles and passions of the artistic process. Around this time he was being commissioned  to do works in San Francisco, the first that came to my attention was Drawn Stone (2005) at the entrance to the new de Young Museum.

So on one Wednesday I headed out to the southeast corner of the Presidio to do an After-Work Sketch. My subject was Wood Line (2011). This Goldsworthy piece sinuously snakes through a eucalyptus grove in what the artist defined as a piece that “draws the place”. I set up my camp chair and started my sketch in the golden fading light. This was my second attempt at sketching this piece. The first time I fitted Wood Line into a vertical spread, this time I decided to go landscape. I used a bit of sketcher shorthand as I kept the sketch to the simple form of the piece and the eucs in  close proximity. In other words: I had to leave a lot of information out.

This sketch was much more serene and peaceful than the previous time I attempted to draw the sculpture, which was on a Saturday afternoon when hordes of families and couples taking engagement photos filled the grove. There were few people around and there were no interruptions like my previous sketching experience at Stanford. To add a new layer, a great horned owl started to call at 4:35 from the eucalyptus trees off to my right.


Tree Fall (left) and Earth Wall (right) are two new recent Goldsworthy pieces right off Main Post. Tree Fall is unusual because it is inside a Civil War era powder magazine and is only open on weekends. Earth Wall is in a courtyard of the Presidio’s Officer’s Club.


Spire (2006) was Goldsworthy’s first piece in the Presidio. This is a sketch from December 29, 2010. I have sketched all of Goldsworthy’s permanent works in San Francisco, but the epicenter of Goldsworthy in San francisco will always be the Presidio.